‘Not going well’: City knew of reliability issues before accepting LRT system

‘Not Going Well’: City Knew Of Reliability Issues Before Accepting Lrt System

Ottawa City officials knew the Confederation Line had reliability issues — and maintenance was problematic — in the weeks before the city took delivery of the $2.1 billion LRT system, emails show.

“We all agree that things are not going well,” John Manconi, the city’s former chief of transportation, wrote on August 8, 2019 to a number of leaders involved in the project.

“The reliability of the fleet is not where it needs to be to provide reliable service….that means the vehicles need attention (repair) more often than they should.”

Manconi’s email was addressed to then-CEO of Rideau Transit Group (RTG) Peter Lauch, officials of train manufacturer Alstom and other RTG representatives.

CBC received emails between Manconi and Lauch from June to August 2019, which led to the official handover of the LRT to the city, via an information access request.

Many of the issues discussed are already known – that the 12 consecutive days of testing were not consecutive, that RTG struggled to launch and operate 15 double car trains at once – but the exchanges do paint a picture of how worried and discouraged Manconi appeared. about the readiness of the system. The reports also show that the problems that arose after the Confederation Line was publicly launched were fully known to the city before it adopted the system.

Neither the city nor RTG have responded to requests for comment on this story.

Manconi frustrated with RTG progress

Just two weeks after the aforementioned email from Manconi, Mayor Jim Watson lift a framed golden key above his head to symbolize the city’s acceptance of the Confederation Line, and the mayor announced it would open to the public on September 14. (In reality, the city didn’t technically accept the system until Sept. 3 after its own officials and certifiers signed it.)

WATCH: Archive footage as the city receives the key from the LRT

The city has set September 14 as the launch date for the Confederation Line? 1:12

In fact, already on July 10 that year, the public was told that the much-delayed LRT would transfer in August and open in September.

But the email exchange between Manconi and Lauch shows that the former head of OC Transpo was frustrated with the lack of reliability of the trains, the fact that they often had to be repaired and that, according to Manconi, there were not enough Alstom technicians available. were to fix the problems.

Manconi often expressed his frustration with RTG, Alstom and the progress of the project as the final delivery date approached.

Oc Transpo John Manconi
Former OC Transpo general manager, John Manconi, is featured at a press conference in February 2020. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Ongoing problems ‘eroding trust’

On July 5, Manconi exchanged messages with Matthew Slade, who was working on the LRT project for RTG partner Ellis Don. Manconi explained that Alstom was unable to launch 15 double car trains earlier that day and that there were problems with the Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) system.

“I can’t guarantee anything and again, this undermines confidence. I don’t see a scenario where we can do this well,” Manconi wrote to Slade.

The emails don’t specify what “this” refers to, but Manconi was clearly dissatisfied with the state of a light rail system due to be handed over to the city the following month.

Just two days later, Manconi’s emails revealed his anger. There were “major operating restrictions” on the line and “track problems in the tunnel” and RTG told Manconi no technician was available, but he didn’t believe them.

“My team constantly asks me why I always trust that you guys will deliver people and when you tell me something you mean it. I constantly hear from all of you ‘don’t worry JOHN, we are ready ‘,” Manconi wrote in an email to Lauch, Slade and Claude Jacob, the then general manager of the LRT builder’s maintenance department.

‘Ready? I do not think so.’

Test Run Problems

On July 22, 15 coupled trains were successfully launched during the morning rush hour test run. It’s not clear if that was the first time this happened. Anyway, RTG submitted its substantial completion notice to the city that same afternoon, which was the consortium’s formal statement that it believed the LRT was ready for primetime.

The vaunted 12-day testing period began about a week later, and Manconi had assured members of the council and the public that the Confederation Line would have to work nearly perfectly to receive the stamp of approval. If there were problems, the 12-day clock would have to be reset.

That’s not how it went.

Peter Lauch Rtg Lrt O Train Confederation Line
Former RTG CEO Peter Lauch, shown here at a press conference in February 2020, appeared ready to tell the council about a 48-hour halt in testing in late July 2019. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

After just three days of testing, RTG and the city agreed to end the trial for 48 hours. Lauch provided some lines for Manconi to include in an update to the mayor. That same day – July 31 – Manconi wrote an email to the board explaining that “performance during the first three days of the trial led to the joint decision to suspend the ongoing system review.” One of the six ‘critical elements’ checked was ‘vehicle performance’.

The email was never sent, despite the intention of Manconi and RTG to inform the board. It is not clear who has decided that it is not allowed to go outside.

About a week later, Manconi told RTG officials that “it is not going well” and that defects need to be investigated and fixed to increase the reliability of the system.

He also argued that Alstom needed to “provide more smart technicians working the night shift” because of the “current fleet reliability and expected 2.5 breakdowns per day”.

Manconi wanted Alstom to add two or three more technicians to the night shift and he sounded alarm bells about Alstom’s procedures to document his work.

Ottawa Lrt Derailment 2021
Employees of train manufacturer Alstom work between evidence markers placed on the tracks on 20 September 2021 after an OC Transpo light rail vehicle derailed west of Tremblay station. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“Finally, Alstom must continue to improve its tracking of the closures of defects and errors,” Manconi wrote. “While Alsom is improving in this area, the level of accuracy of the documentation of open defects, closed defects and defects that have not actually been ‘fixed’ remains unclear, leaving the actual status of the vehicles uncertain.”

The sloppy procedures and documentation Manconi mentioned in 2019 were: cited by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada as the reason a train derailed more than two years later on September 19, 2021.

Investigators found skipped steps, insufficient paperwork and a lack of supervision led to the serious accident.

Four days after that last email from Manconi, things didn’t seem to be getting any better.

“This morning is not going well,” Manconi wrote to Lauch and several others on the morning of August 14, 2019. Presumably, the morning launch left a lot to be desired.

“I think we can all agree that time is not on our side, so your immediate attention to this is critical.”

A month later, the Confederation Line was opened to the public.

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